BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Parker and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-069 (16 December 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Iain Parker
Number
2019-069
Programme
The AM Show
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

In an episode of The AM Show, host, Duncan Garner, interviewed economist Cameron Bagrie on the topic of dropping interest rates. During the interview, Mr Bagrie commented regarding the risk of people no longer putting money in the bank, saying, ‘the banks need the money in the bank, because they gotta … get a dollar in the door before they can put the money out the door in the form of a loan.’ The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item breached the accuracy standard. The Authority found that Mr Bagrie’s statement was clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion so the accuracy standard does not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  During a segment of an episode of The AM Show, the host, Duncan Garner interviewed economist, Cameron Bagrie. Mr Garner opened the segment in the following manner:

Interest rates seems to be plummeting lower and lower by the day. Could they eventually reach zero? What does it mean? What does it mean for you and the property market? Will the big banks still lend money to you? Joining us now with the answers, or hopefully the answers, to these questions is economist Cameron Bagrie.

Cam good morning… Zero interest rates, what are they, do they work and why would we need them?

[2]  Mr Bagrie responded by offering a quick summary of the events stating the view that ‘the global financial crisis is a bit of a bellweather in regard to… why we had zero interest rates around the globe and they weren’t for great reasons.’

[3]  The interview continued with Mr Bagrie’s analysis of expectations in terms of what central banks will be doing globally. Mr Garner then made the following statement, ‘no good for people with money, so if you put the money in the bank, well what’s the point?’ Mr Bagrie’s responded:

Well, exactly and that creates I think a little bit of resistance, tension in regard to how low interest rates, if we are talking about physical borrowing rates, can actually go here in New Zealand. Yes the official cash rate can keep going lower, but is there that much scope for banks to keep cutting borrowing mortgage rates? I think the answer is no.

[4]  Mr Bagrie continued with the following statement which is the subject of the complainant’s complaint:

And the simple reason here is that there is a limit as to how low deposit rates can go before we’re gonna stop putting our money in the bank. Of course, … the banks need the money in the bank, because they gotta … get a dollar in the door before they can put the money out the door in the form of a loan.

[5]  The episode was broadcast on Three at 6:26am on 22 July 2019. As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[6]  Iain Parker complained that Mr Bagrie’s statement in paragraph [4] above breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Mr Parker argued:

  • The statement is a gross misrepresentation of how modern banking and funding structures of the New Zealand money supply actually work.
  • Banks do not act as ‘intermediaries’ lending out savers’ deposits.
  • Mr Bagrie was the chief economist at ANZ so listeners are likely to take his statement as ‘irrefutably accurate’.
  • ‘The fact is that the base credit of the New Zealand money supply is entirely borrowed. There can be no increase in domestic deposits without an increase of base credit borrowed external of our borders.’
  • To understand the economic situation more needs to be known of the ‘market makers’ used by New Zealand banks to facilitate the foreign currency swap legs involved in borrowing from offshore.
  • ‘Our collective failure to truly understand money’ can have ‘dangerous real life consequences’ (eg global financial crisis).
  • The statement in paragraph [4] above was not a ‘minor part of the segment’ as an understanding of where the base credit of New Zealand’s money supply presently comes from is important for listeners to understand the economic anomalies discussed in the segment ‘let alone solving the sustainable longterm [sic] economic equilibrium equation’.

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  MediaWorks did not uphold Mr Parker’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • Mr Bagrie’s involvement in the broadcast was not to provide an in-depth examination of the mechanics of the monetary system but to provide viewers with a broad simplified assessment of the impact of falling interest rates and the potential for 0% interest rates.
  • Even if the statement was not strictly accurate it was not a material error of fact but a minor part of the segment which would not have significantly affected the audience’s understanding as a whole.

The standard

[8]   The purpose of the accuracy standard (Standard 9) is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.1 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. To ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.2

[9]  Standard 9 is only applicable to statements of fact and does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.3 A fact is something verifiable. It can be proved right or wrong. An opinion is someone’s view, is contestable and others may hold a differing view.4

Our analysis

[10]  When determining a complaint we first recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s freedom to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.

[11]  In this case, the harm that Mr Parker alleges is that the statement is a misrepresentation of how the banking system actually works.  He argues that this will prevent the audience understanding the economic anomalies discussed in the broadcast and contribute to the public’s misunderstanding of the monetary and banking system as a whole (in turn limiting our prospects of improving the system and avoiding issues like the global financial crisis).

[12]  We note first that our role is not to determine the accuracy of Mr Bagrie’s comments regarding interest rates and the operation of banking systems. Rather our role is to determine whether the accuracy standard applied to this broadcast, and if so, whether MediaWorks made reasonable efforts to ensure all material statements of fact were accurate, and that the interview did not mislead listeners.5

[13]  The first question we have considered is whether the statement highlighted by Mr Parker amounted to material points of fact, or whether it was distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.  If the latter, the accuracy standard does not apply.6

[14]  It is crucial how a reasonable viewer or listener would perceive it.7 In assessing whether a statement is fact or opinion the Authority will take into account factors such as:

  • the language used in the statement and the rest of the item 
  • the type of programme and the role or reputation of the person speaking
  • the subject matter
  • whether evidence or proof is provided.8

[15]  In our view, a reasonable viewer would perceive the challenged statement to be Mr Bagrie’s analysis, comment or opinion for the following reasons:

  • The AM Show is a morning news show containing what audiences would reasonably expect to be factual, authoritative or truthful information. However, it is also a talk show where audiences would reasonably expect opinions, commentary, analysis and discussion.
  • Mr Bagrie is a familiar guest on The AM show and is often invited to give his expert views and comments on the economy. Audiences are likely to expect his statements will contain personal analysis based on his professional experience.9
  • The focus of the segment was the question of whether interest rates will eventually reach zero in New Zealand and what the implications of plummeting interest rates are likely to be (described in paragraph [1] above). This is the type of subject matter that will invite differing opinions and views.
  • The language used reflected a subjective analysis.10 Mr Bagrie began his answer with, ‘I think’ (described in paragraph [3] above) indicating that it was his opinion. The statement that is the subject of the complaint appears to be an explanation of how, or why, he came to that viewpoint.
  • The statement itself is a brief explanatory comment which he does not attempt to substantiate through presentation of further case studies or other evidence.

[16]  We therefore all agreed that the statement is clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion and standard 9 does not apply.

[17]  In any event, we do not consider that audiences would have been left materially misinformed or misled by the brief statement. While we acknowledge Mr Parker’s concern regarding the implications of the public not understanding the banking system, it is clear from Mr Garner’s questioning that the purpose of this short segment was not to offer an in-depth explanation of the banking system but to offer practical expert guidance regarding the potential implications of dropping interest rates (which, in itself, is a complex subject). From the brevity of the segment, it can be reasonably expected that Mr Bagrie was providing what, in his expert view, constituted an appropriate simplified and brief assessment for the purposes of responding to the question before him.  

[18]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

16 December 2019    

 

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1                 Iain Parker’s formal complaint –30 July 2019

2                 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 28 August 2019

3                 Mr Parker’s referral to the Authority – 7 September 2019

4                 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 5 November 2019


1 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [98]
3 Guideline 9a
4 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing fact and analysis, comment or opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62
5 Seafood New Zealand Ltd and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-054
6 Guideline 9a
7 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing fact and analysis, comment or opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62
8 As above
9 Loder and Dennis and Mediaworks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2018-011
10 See Diprose and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-067 at [17]